The after-party: How to turn special events into future gifts


With the spring gala and special event season in high gear, it’s time to put in place strategic plans for following up with your guests, vendors, sponsors, volunteers and other donors to cultivate major gift prospects after the event.

Special events are important vehicles for developing stronger relationships with donors and an opportunity to bring in new donors. With donors carefully picking and choosing their causes to support, organizations are working harder and more creatively for the money generated by special events.

According to a recent study by Charity Navigator, the average charity spends $1.33 to raise $1 in special events contributions, not including the cost of time and human resources required. While special events in themselves may not be a way to raise a lot of money immediately, what you do after the event can set the stage for significant gift-giving in the near future. Start capitalizing on the opportunities your successful event has created to cultivate major gift prospects and to promote your organization’s visibility and reputation in the community. These simple steps will help continue to drive the momentum your event has generated.

Don’t underestimate the thank you

It may be obvious, but make sure every guest who attended, anyone who gave a donation but could not attend, and all vendors, sponsors, board members, journal advertisers, in-kind donors and committee volunteers receive a personalized thank-you letter from your event chair(s) and/or the board president.

The letter should welcome new donors and guests and include promotional materials and a newsletter. It should go out no later than two weeks after the event and specify how the funds raised will be used to fulfill your mission and benefit clients. Include a brief survey about the event in the letter to event attendees with a return envelope. Surveys can also be distributed on-line via programs such as Constant Contact using previously captured e-mail addresses.

If you created an ad journal for your event, send a copy to every advertiser who did not attend with a thank-you note. When it is time for next year’s event, send them a copy of their previous ad with your solicitation letter.    Also, don’t forget your in-kind donors by sending a copy of the ad in the journal thanking them.

Work the list for major prospects

Cultivation does not stop with your signature event. Organize a committee of board members, event co-chairs and other knowledgeable volunteers to review your guest/donor list to identify the best prospects for major gifts and develop a cultivation plan.

Your prospects may be existing donors who have made smaller gifts in the past or individuals new to your organization. The connection you create through your special event may provide an opportunity to cultivate a donor who has the capacity to make a major gift.

Advertisers and in-kind donors can also turn into major gifts prospects. Assign a committee member to work with an individual donor or prospect, keeping them apprised of good news. The cultivation plan should include a variety of ways to reach out to the donor or prospect throughout the year, such as a breakfast with your organization’s top management, or a private dinner. Arrange a site visit or send a note of congratulations on an accomplishment, or an invitation to an educational event. Pay attention to your donor or prospect’s real interests and passions and invite them to join a committee, or perhaps even the board.   

Strengthen ties with corporate sponsors

Corporate sponsors are powerful and precious allies of your organization.  Assuming your corporate sponsor received the appropriate recognition at the event, and again after the event with samples of publicity, now consider how to further enhance the relationship.

First and foremost, list your sponsor on your website, allowing web users to click on your sponsor’s logo to drive prospects directly to their site.  Brainstorm how best your organization can promote the sponsor to your event audience through special offers, workshops, etc. Consider developing a volunteer program with the sponsor.

The Chappaqua School Foundation Inc. utilized many of these techniques after its annual spring benefit this year. The foundation generated a colorful and impactful newsletter-style email blast thanking donors, vendors and sponsors, highlighting the total funds raised for the year and educating donors about the projects their dollars would support.

By including a list of all merchant supporters, printable coupons and special offers from local merchants, they generated extra publicity and potential business for their vendors and added value for their donors. What’s more, a new call to action asking for support for a new technology initiative extended the opportunity to raise funds.

Extend your 15 minutes of fame

Your post-event publicity plan is as important as your pre-event plan.  Cultivating the media after the event will enhance your ability to get publicity in the future.

First, thank any media that gave you pre-and post-event publicity, and media representatives who attended the event. Next, send event photos and a news release to your complete media list quickly after the event. Send copies of any post-event coverage with photos in the media to the relevant supporters.

Over the long run, one of the main goals of publicity for your organization should be to position key executives as an expert and “go-to authority” for your area of service. Develop a special interest story related to your event and the clients you serve and continue to build media relationships so your organization appears frequently in the media.

Use your organization’s website and social media to extend the excitement surrounding the event and funds raised for your fans and followers.

Start a conversation on networks such as Facebook and Twitter with reactions and comments on the event, while spreading the word about your cause. Post photos and videos of the event hosted by YouTube on Facebook and your website that illustrate what the organization is about, the amount of money raised and how the funds will be used.

Provide opportunities for those who weren’t involved with the event to donate to the project. Use your event to launch a new social media campaign to fundraise for the next stage of a project.

Promoting the success of this year’s event through social media can position your organization as the “must-have” invitation for next year’s event. Collect names and addresses on your website of those who want to be included on the invitation list next year.

In the world of nonprofit fundraising, the cultivation dance never stops, even when the music has stopped playing. Develop a post-event marketing plan now that can build on the “buzz” created by your special event that will enhance your position in the community, generate awareness of your organization and the clients you serve and maximize the impact on your major gifts program. Take a deep breath and strategize. Your after-party has just begun.